Adaptive responses of body protein metabolism to dietary protein intakes of 1.0 g.kg body wt-1.d-1 were determined by nitrogen balance and urinary 3-methylhistidine excretion in lactating and nonlactating women. Despite higher energy intakes (p less than 0.04), lactating women had lower nitrogen balances compared with nonlactating postpartum and nulliparous women (p less than 0.001). Nitrogen losses in milk did not account entirely for these differences. Nitrogen balance showed linear (p less than 0.04) and quadratic (p less than 0.03) trends over time postpartum among the lactating women. Urinary 3-methylhistidine excretion also was reduced (p less than 0.05) in lactating compared with nonlactating women. These observations suggest that protein intakes of 1.0 g.kg body wt-1.d-1 in lactating women are associated with adaptive responses that promote the conservation of skeletal muscle protein stores and that currently recommended dietary protein allowances may be insufficient to meet the nutritional needs of well-nourished lactating women.